The review of independent criminal advocacy in England and Wales by Sir Bill Jeffrey is very welcome. The CLSA and LCCSA are both completely committed to raising standards of advocacy and believe that solicitors can only benefit from the greater emphasis on training in this specialist area. As Associations we shall actively co-operate with the Government, The SRA, The Law Society and other professional bodies to ensure the highest possible standards are achieved. We note that the report compares unfavourably the length and depth of advocacy training solicitors receive with that of the Bar and we agree all possible steps should be taken to raise and equalise standards.
We agree with Sir Bill’s comments that there are ‘very capable solicitor-advocates, and some very poor barristers’, but we are embracing the challenges put before us, recognising the need to adapt and raise standards. In contrast the preposterous entirely self interested hubristic triumphalism of the Bar Council is to be regretted and possibly short lived as our side of the profession rapidly embraces and adapts to change. We will ensure that the right advocate is selected for the case in accordance with our professional obligations and this is something we are quite capable of doing with the support of the SRA and without interference from those pursuing their own narrow self-interested agenda.
We do believe in the co-existence of Solicitors and the Bar in the Crown Court and Sir Bill Jeffery clearly recognises that solicitor Crown Court Advocates are here to stay when he says ‘attempting to turn the clock back to restore the bar’s exclusive rights of audience in the Crown court is ‘neither feasible nor desirable’.
We make three final points. The cuts in legal aid have driven the move by many solicitor firms into the Crown Court and the Bar supported the present fee structure that led to this.
Secondly, the link between the number of duty solicitors and the volumes of work at the police stations encouraged mass employment of duty solicitors in all courts including the Crown Court to cope with this reduction in income and this link may soon be broken.
Further the Government cannot ignore the additional training costs implied in this report as all legal aid lawyers’ finances are too fragile to absorb sudden and massive increases in training costs. Help will be needed. But make no mistake. Crown Court Solicitor advocates offering continuity of client care with enhanced training will be a formidable force in the future and we are grateful to Sir Bill Jeffrey for acknowledging that and providing a blue print for their future development.
Bill Waddington - Chair CLSA
Nicola Hill - President LCCSA